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Our Love Is An Elemental One

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The streets tonight were slick with mud and snow, a disgusting slurry that was as quintessential to a New York winter as the bone chilling temperatures and endless parade of hipsters in oversized beanies. Inside the patented leather backseat of the company car, however, Steve Rogers was warm and dry. And with the press of a button, the seat beneath him slowly began to warm up a couple degrees more.

Working for Stark Tech really did have its’ perks, Steve mused idly. More so than the fancy cars with their heated seats and polished drivers, it was nice to be able to give back to the community so freely. The cutthroat, Darwinian world of high stakes finance often had little use for the notion of altruism, but after acquiring the position of CFO at the company Steve had made it his personal mission to be as involved in the Maria Stark Foundation’s community outreach programs as possible. Unfortunately, after a while he had realized that writing endless checks and attending even the more well-intentioned fundraisers had begun to lose its’ appeal.

Which is how he found himself in the back of one of Tony Stark’s cars on a gloomy Saturday evening, idling in traffic just a few blocks from the Queens hospital which had most definitely seen better days. Understaffed and overworked, the staff at St. Anthony’s had been happy to receive a generous donation from the Stark Foundation. More importantly, they were indulgent enough to let Steve volunteer there on the weekends with the rest of the mismatched crew of civic minded high school students and bored retirees.

For Steve, who grew up in Brooklyn as one of those starry-eyed young kids himself, spending his weekends at the hospital gave him a sense of peace that his usual desk bound routine couldn’t bring. Contrary to popular belief, growing up and finding material success hadn’t entirely blunted his sense of idealism – but he had quickly learned that wearing a bleeding heart on your sleeve wasn’t the best way to come out on top in the cutthroat world of finance. And for an alpha working with other, more power-hungry alphas, showing any sign of weakness was a considered a fatal error. To that end, Steve was content to let his work at St. Anthony’s be considered as nothing more than a means to an end for a charitable tax write off.

Caught up in the wave of petulant and fretful drivers, their car hadn’t made it very far. His driver, a quietly competent beta named Jackson, caught Steve’s eye in the rearview mirror and gave a shrug.

“Sorry, Mr. Rogers, it looks like we might be here for a while,” he said.

“Don’t worry about it, I could use the downtime,” Steve said, leaning back into his seat. Jesus, this thing was hot now. He shifted slightly, trying to find the button to turn the heat down so that he wasn’t in danger of setting his pants on fire. He was pretty sure the seat warmers couldn’t actually achieve flammable temperatures, but stranger things had definitely happened before in Tony Stark’s vehicles. Frankly, it was better to be safe than sorry whenever Stark was involved.

Despite the congestion, the car began to pick up speed once more. Shitty weather or not, it looked as though Jackson would have him home in no time at all. And although it had been a long day, a peculiar sense of melancholy washed over Steve at the thought of returning to his empty condominium. Maybe he should have the car drop him off at a coffeeshop or something, Steve thought. He could stand to eat. Or maybe he should text Sam, see if he was down to watch a game and knock back a couple beers. Although the chances of him refusing to leave his warm den in favor of trekking it in this weather on a Sunday night were exceedingly low. Not that Steve could blame him.

Suddenly, there was a loud thump as something knocked into their car. Jackson swore, hitting the brakes so hard that Steve was thrown clean out of his seat.

“Oh god,” the driver said, turning pale.

“What was that?” Steve was already scrambling up from the footwell, an alarmed look on his face. “Did we hit something?”

Jackson only shook his head, still clutching the steering wheel. “It came out of nowhere,” he said blankly. “I swear he just jumped in front of us.” A note of panic climbed into his voice.

With his driver apparently frozen to the spot, Steve had no choice but to fling open the doors in hopes to seeing what – or who – they had struck. The rain was torrential, drenching him immediately from head to foot in an icy cascade of misery. The traffic flowed unabated around them, drivers screeching their horns at the spectacle the unmoving town car made in the middle of the street but refusing to slow down or stop.

Over the cacophony Steve could vaguely hear Jackson yelling his name, telling him it wasn’t safe to be wandering outside in this neighborhood with their doors unlocked and open like this. But Steve was determined to find out what they had hit. He paced the side of the road by the car, expecting and dreading to find the mangled body of someone’s escaped pet. There was nothing except asphalt.

Visions of a blood and fur smeared on the hood of Tony’s ridiculous car floated across his mind as he circled the car. The rain beat down incessantly, whipping his hair around his eyes. Which is why when he saw the huddled mass crumpled on ground near the front of the car, he almost didn’t recognize it for what it was.

An omega. The air was thick with the scent of hurt, scared omega, the pheromones pouring off of the small form on the ground almost as quickly as they were being carried straight off by the violent winds.

For a moment Steve felt nothing but pure white panic. But even though his mind was barely capable of processing what was in front him, his biology drove him into action. The drive to protect was stronger than even his own fear. He ran over to the omega immediately, dropping to his knees so he could get a better look.

A litany of ‘please be alive, please be alive, fuck please be alive’ looped over and over in Steve’s head as he crouched in the muddied snow next to the omega’s unmoving body. The rain continued to beat down on them, unrelenting and unhelpful.

The omega was a male, pale and cold with bones as brittle as a bird’s. Gently shaking the omega’s shoulder did nothing to rouse him, and with a jolt of horror Steve saw that there was a dark pool of blood spreading on the pavement beneath him.

Steve made an executive decision. They couldn’t leave him here, and in the storm, he didn’t know if they could afford to wait for an ambulance. This was his fault, Steve thought grimly. His car, his responsibility to make sure this omega was seen to safety. With his mind made up, he gently scooped up the unresisting omega into his arms, easing him out from under the shadow of the car. He was a feather light weight in his arms, head lolling and limbs limp.  Steve hurried back to the backseat, cursing the slippery door handle that refused to cooperate. The scent of hurt and fear was even thicker inside the close, warm quarters of the car.

“We’re going back to the hospital. Now,” he said tersely. “He needs medical attention immediately.”

“Yes, sir,” Jackson replied. He looked as apprehensive as Steve felt, eyeing the soaked omega dripping blood on his backseats with trepidation.

The car roared back to life, with their driver making a series of increasingly illegal turns in order to get them back to the hospital with as much alacrity as possible. Steve took a deep, steadying breath and tentatively felt for a pulse. The omega was pumping out distressed pheromones in such high doses that he had to still be alive, but Steve was no doctor. It wasn’t until he sought out the weak pulse beating on the man’s wrist that Steve was finally able to release the breath he hadn’t realized he had been holding.

He had never had a pack of his own, but the inherent feeling that this omega was his responsibility grew with every passing second. It might have been the scent alone, or maybe it was the guilt of hurting something so much smaller and more delicate than himself. The thought of committing violence against an omega, knowingly or unknowingly, made Steve’s stomach roll and his own scent turn sour with apprehension.

Almost as if he could feel Steve’s unease, the omega moaned quietly. He was still slumped across Steve’s lap, eyelids fluttering as he slowly came around. Steve froze, unsure what to do. The omega’s fists clenched and unclenched, and he scented the air slowly. Whatever he smelled roused him faster than even the icy rainwater, and he jackknifed upright before Steve could say so much as a word.

“What the fuck,” he rasped, voice hoarse and cracked with fear. He glanced around wildly, and a look of pure fear crossed his face as he realized that they were in a moving vehicle. He moaned lowly, hands coming up to clutch at his head in pain. The laceration across his scalp was still bleedingly freely, and the omega’s scent spiked sharply with terror at the sight of his own blood, hot and cherry-red, staining his hands.

“Hey, it’s okay,” Steve rumbled soothingly. He held his hands out towards the omega, placating. “You had an accident; it’s going to be okay.”

“No,” the omega whimpered. He flinched back from Steve’s touch like it was a deadly viper, shrinking into the opposite corner with a moan. “please, you have to let me go, you- you can let me go, sir, I won’t tell anyone. Please,” he begged. His wide grey eyes filled slowly with tears.

Steve flinched, quickly getting overwhelmed by the stench of terror and pain that was pouring off the omega in waves. From the corner of his eye, Steve noticed Jackson surreptitiously rolling up the partition. No doubt to avoid becoming incapacitated by scent of fear himself. The omega had spoken brokenly, his words slurred slightly by an accent Steve couldn’t quite place. Having finally seen him in better lighting, Steve was struck by just how young he seemed.

“I can’t,” he said, clearly and slowly. The alpha timber in his voice grew more pronounced almost without Steve realizing it. It was a response to the omega’s clear distress and meant to provide a sense of comfort, although judging by the other’s response all it had only made his anxiety worse. “You have to see a doctor, so they can fix you up, okay?” he said.

“Please, alpha,” the boy sobbed. “I have to go or he’ll find me, please.”

Steve could see him scrambling at the door handle behind him, trying in vain to open the locked car door. When his bid for freedom didn’t work, the omega redoubled his efforts, scrambling for the window and pounding on the door.

“Whoa, hey,” Steve said, highly alarmed. “You’re going to hurt yourself.” The sight of the omega inconsolably hurling himself at the door overwhelmed his desire to give him space and Steve reached out to grab his arms gently.

If he had expected the omega to quiet down and submit, the reaction he got could not have more different. The omega cried out and struggled against Steve’s hold, resisting being pulled away from the windows and towards the alpha. Operating solely on instinct, Steve tightened his grip until the omega was tucked securely against his side. The need to keep him close and quiet and unharmed was rapidly overtaking the more rational part of his mind, and he growled warningly when the omega made to lash out once more.

“Please just let me help you,” Steve gritted out. Both of their clothes were uncomfortably wet, and the leather seats squelched unpleasantly as the omega continued to squirm.

“You don’t – don’t have to do this,” the boy said again, the fight going out of him as instantly as it had come. “I won’t tell, I promise,” he murmured nonsensically.

Steve carefully extricated his arm from the omega’s thin shoulders. He could feel a rumble building low in his chest, a sound meant to project comfort and security. Already he could feel the omega slipping back into unconsciousness, lulled by the close proximity of an alpha’s pheromones despite his fear.

“It’s going to be alright,” he murmured. “You’re safe.”

The omega’s eyes slipped shut, although his narrow chest still heaved with exertion. By the time the car had pulled up to the hospital’s emergency bay he was out like a light. The stillness of his slumped form shot a new jolt of anxiety through Steve. For an instant he wished for the loud and undeniably alive version of the boy who now lay still and unmoving in his arms, as inanimate as a ragdoll.

 

When Steve strode into the emergency department with his arms full of sodden, bloody omega he immediately garnered nasty looks from everyone in a nearby radius. No doubt they could smell the stench of omega fear and distress, and they didn’t hesitate to trace it back to the alpha who should have known better. A feeling of shame and guilt prickled the back of Steve’s neck, even though he knew full well that people were only drawing false conclusions.

The same sense of responsibility tugged at him, making him tuck the boy more securely into his arms. He may not have a pack to lead or even a mate to call his own, but Steve would be damned if he didn’t ensure that this omega would be protected to the best of his ability.

Steve had no sooner stepped into the ER than a nurse hurried up to meet him. He practically sagged in relief at the sight of a friendly, competent face.

“We didn’t expect you back so soon, Mr. Rogers,” Nurse Temple said lightly, gesturing for two of her colleagues to help transfer the omega from Steve’s arms and onto a stretcher. He moaned quietly as he was separated from Steve and the calming effect of the alpha’s pheromones gradually dissipated.

 “He jumped in front of the car,” Steve said, standing back helplessly as the medical team took over. “I don’t know where he came from or who he is.”

Claire Temple was the senior ER nurse at this hospital, and in all the time Steve had spent here he had never once seen the cool-headed beta lose her composure. Today was absolutely no different.

“Let’s just take a look, how about that?” she said smoothly, directing Steve towards a nearby chair while she drew a curtain around the bed where the omega now lay.

“Ouch, that’s a nasty cut you got there, sweetheart,” she said, snapping on a pair of latex gloves and gently turning the omega’s head towards the light.

The omega’s eyes slowly fluttered open, and for the second time in a day he opened his eyes to pain, chaos, and strangers. This time when the omega’s pulse sky rocketed, it was accompanied by a frantic beeping of medical machines.

“Hurts,” he moaned, hands spasming at his sides.

“I know it hurts,” Nurse Temple said sympathetically, reaching into her white coat pocket for a penlight. She swung the light from one pupil to the other, tracking the omega’s sluggish response.

“You were in an accident, do you remember that?” she asked, voice clear over the din of the bustling emergency room. Her patient, however, remained silent.

Steve looked anxiously at the omega, perched on the edge of his seat. He hoped that sitting and making himself appear smaller; less of a threat, would appease the omega’s fear.

“Do you remember what happened?” the nurse asked again. She quickly pushed aside the drenched windbreaker he had been huddling in, scanning the omega for more injuries. He remained passive, allowing her to strip him of his jacket and the thin shirt he wore underneath.

Bare-chested, he started shivering almost immediately despite the central heating. His torso was mottled with bruises, and Steve averted his eyes; thinking again about the instant judgement of the people in the waiting room and unable to face the feeling of shame.

“Can you tell us your name?” she asked gently. This question finally seemed to spark some life into his eyes.

“Bucky,” the omega rasped, curling his arms defensively around himself. “My name is Bucky.”

The faint accent that Steve had heard earlier was more pronounced now, a decidedly Slavic tinge that slurred his words ever so slightly. Regardless, by now the distress was seeping so clearly from the omega’s every pore as he continued to tremble on the cot that words were superfluous.

“Bucky,” repeated Nurse Temple, subtly motioning over her colleagues from before. “Okay, Bucky, I need you to take a deep breath for me okay? You’re at a hospital, we just want to take a look at your wounds.”

Despite the nurse’s soothing tone, the omega continued to shiver. The rate of the monitor’s beeping picked up exponentially as Bucky finally started to take in his surroundings, and Steve knew that he was about to bolt a second before he jolted into motion and began scrambling off the examination table.

His feet had barely touched the floor, however, before the other two nurses had him firmly in their grasp. Nurse Temple, it seemed, was an old hand at dealing with omegas who were frightened out of their wits.

“Let go of me!” Bucky screamed suddenly, voice cracking. “Please, no, I want to go,” he whimpered. The two nurses on either side of him eased him back on the bed, easily overpowering his thrashing. Weak from the blood loss and exertion, he was no match for their calm, ruthlessly competent manner.

Steve felt his throat close up at the sound of the omega’s heart-broken plea.

“Is this really necessary?” he said loudly as both the omega’s wrists were looped into soft, cloth restraints and bound to the bed’s guard rails.

“It’s for his own protection,” Nurse Temple replied, not unkindly. “He’s in shock. Omegas respond to stimuli different than you or me, Mr. Rogers,” she continued. On the bed, Bucky tossed his head, seemingly insensate to a world beyond his terror. Despite himself, Steve could feel every fiber of his screaming at him to fix what was wrong; to help and protect.

“Alpha, please,” Bucky begged incoherently, turning his head to lock eyes with Steve. Sitting in the chair right next to the bed put Steve at eye level with the omega, and he reached out helplessly to comfort him before he could stop himself. The touch of his hand on his hair made the omega start begging anew, wide grey eyes pleading with Steve.

“You’re safe, I promise,” Steve murmured, feeling torn clean in two. All he wanted to do was to gather up the omega in his arms and sprint out of this emergency room as fast as his legs would carry him. He had never felt protective instincts quite this strong, and it took him entirely off guard.

When Steve looked up and saw Nurse Temple holding a thick black posture collar, he balked. Before he could protest, however, she held up a placating hand.

“We’re just going to take a look at that head wound and take him up for some scans,” she said warningly. “It’s going to be a lot more comfortable for him if he wears this, trust me.”

“Comfortable?” Steve asked.

He eyed the unforgiving looking collar with apprehension. The utilitarian corsetry of the collar’s leather looked soft, but unforgiving. It was clearly meant to immobilize an omega by putting pressure on their bonding glands, sensitive spots on the throat that invoked heavy, if not complete, submission in the wearer.

Before he could protest any further the nurse was already easing the collar around Bucky’s neck, murmuring soft reassurances over the omega’s squirming.

As soon as she closed the collar’s Velcro snugly, the difference was immediate. The omega finally relaxed, his muscles going limp and loose. His mouth went slack. The smell of terror and pain, which had been overwhelming, slowly began to ebb.

“Please,” he murmured softly, head leaning into Steve’s hand. Steve felt his insides liquefy and turn to jelly, completely in thrall to the soft haze of submission that clouded the omega’s eyes.

He was still sitting there a few minutes later after a doctor had come by to collect Bucky, stunned by the evening’s events. This was a far cry from the quiet evening he had envisioned for himself. In fact, this was a far cry from anything that had happened to Steve in recent memory.

It wasn’t until someone handed him a sheaf of forms to fill out that he wondered why he was even still here. He couldn’t fill out any of these forms; shit, he wasn’t even Bucky’s alpha. There really was no reason for him to be lingering in the waiting room, except that for some inexplicable reason his feet refused to carry him to the door.

When Nurse Temple next caught sight of him pacing the halls, she decided to take pity.

“He’s in another room now,” she said, placing a hand on Steve’s bulky shoulder. His clothes were just as damp from the rain as Bucky’s.  “Would you like to see him?”

“Can I?” Steve asked, suddenly hesitant to overstep his bounds. “Is he okay?”

“He’s going to be fine,” Nurse Temple replied, consulting the chart in her hands as they strode through the hospital corridors. “He’s been banged up something awful and he has a mild concussion, but right now he’s sleeping. He could use the rest, god knows.”

They had Bucky in a small room on the omega ward of the hospital. He was no longer restrained or collared, and for the first time since Steve had known him, he seemed to be perfectly at peace. At the sight of his sleeping face, a tightness that had been lingers in Steve’s chest eased all at once.

Nurse Temple ushered Steve in, made a few notes on Bucky’s chart, and prepared to head back to her rounds.

“Claire, wait,” Steve burst out, before he could second guess himself. “I think… I think he might be in some trouble.”

 He looked down at the pale face surrounded by a shock of untidy, dark hair and frowned. “He said there was someone after him.”

Nurse Temple paused. “Well, that would certainly explain some things,” she murmured. “Like why he was in such a rush to leave.”

She hesitated. Firmly shutting the door behind, she returned to the omega’s bed.

“And then there’s this.” She reached over and gently brushed back the hair at Bucky’s nape, revealing a pattern of inflamed, deeply mottled bite marks that extended from his hairline and down the slope of his neck.

Steve gasped, horror and revulsion fighting inside of him. He wanted to retch. He wanted to tear out the throat of whomever had been responsible for leaving those perverse, painful imprints on the omega’s skin. He couldn’t believe he hadn’t seen these marks earlier and recognized them for what they were – the failed attempts at a mating bite.

“Christ,” he swore, looking away almost immediately. The sight of the broken and deeply bruised flesh made his skin itch and his throat burn.

“Who could do something like that?” he asked, doing his best to keep the roiling disgust out of his voice. Judging by the sympathetic gleam in Nurse Temple’s eyes, though, he hadn’t quite managed to succeed.

“Probably whomever he was running from,” she replied grimly. She hesitated a moment longer before finally meeting Steve’s eyes across the bed.

“You should know that we can’t keep him here for long,” she said finally. “Not without his alpha’s consent.”

“But he’s hurt!” Steve protested. He looked down at the peacefully sleeping omega and felt his stomach drop at the thought of him back out on the cold, dark streets.

“His injuries might look scary, but they’re superficial,” Nurse Temple said. “We can keep him overnight for observation, but we have to report him as an unidentified, possibly runaway, omega, Steve. It’s the law.”

Steve was torn between her forbidding words and the sheer unfairness of the situation. Leaving Bucky at the hospital was the objectively right thing to do, he knew that. He had done all that he could do for him.

But leaving him here, alone and defenseless; there was a high probability that his alpha would find him almost immediately. Bucky had been running on foot when the car had knocked him down, and Steve figured he couldn’t possibly have gotten too far from wherever he was fleeing before he had been injured.

Leaving him now would be no better than leaving him out on the street, nagged Steve’s conscience. Suddenly, he found himself entirely unable to look away from the omega’s still form laying on the hospital bed.

“What if I claim responsibility for him?” Steve asked slowly, an idea just barely forming in his head. “Just temporarily, to make sure he’s safe.”

Nurse Temple hid a small, knowing smile as she bent over Bucky’s charts.

“As the alpha who brought him in, you will have to sign his discharge papers regardless,” she said blandly. “If you don’t want him to stay overnight, well, then there really is no need to report him as an unaccompanied omega.”

Steve paused for a long moment, looking down at the omega he had just offered to take under his care. He had no clue what he was doing, that much was becoming abundantly clear. But even the thought of walking out of here without Bucky was unthinkable. Steve decided then and there that he would at least do everything in his power to see this through – at least until Bucky was well enough to continue on his own.

He carded his fingers through the sleeping omega’s hair again, mind finally made up.

“Looks like it’s you and me ‘til the end of the line, pal.”

Chapter Text

The first thing Bucky noticed was the beeping. It was electronic and annoying, and for a dazed moment he thought it must have been his phone alarm.

Bucky shot upright, eyes wide and unseeing as he scrambled around their bed looking for the source of the noise. Any noise from his phone was noise from him, and his alpha hated it when he was being loud. Why was his phone not on vibrate, he thought hazily as he frantically patted the sheets.

A bolt of pain shot through his temples, and Bucky moaned lowly. He clutched blindly at his head, trying to breathe past the sudden surge of nausea that accompanied his pounding headache. As the pain slowly began to abate, fragments of his memory began to slot into place.

He wasn’t in his alpha’s bed. He was in a hospital. He was in a hospital because he had tried to run away from his alpha (bad omega, ungrateful bitch, echoed a voice in his head), but Bucky hadn’t been thinking clearly. He had made a mistake, gotten lost, and then he had gotten hurt. Bucky didn’t know much, but he knew there would be hell to pay once Brock got wind of his latest fuck up. His stomach dropped sickeningly.

He chalked it up to his evident brain injury that he didn’t realize that there was a foreign alpha in the room with him until the man reached over to place a tentative hand on Bucky’s arm, and Bucky nearly jumped out of his skin all over again.

“Easy there,” the man said, concern clear on his face. His ridiculously handsome face, Bucky’s hindbrain supplied unhelpfully. “How are you feeling?”

The alpha was all broad shoulders and blonde earnestness. Bucky eyed him silently, trying and failing to reconcile the man’s guileless cornflower eyes with his vague recollections of pain and panic after the crash. His memories were tattered and sharp around the edges, making his head throb dully when he tried to examine them too closely.

But his scent was another matter entirely. Bucky breathed in and was assailed by the scent of concerned and protective alpha, a warm and heady balm that felt better than cool water on a burn. All at once, Bucky felt his muscles relaxing minutely.

“Where is this?” he croaked out. “Who are you?” His mouth was impossibly dry, making the English stick uncomfortably in his throat. There was a pink plastic tumbler on his bedside table, and Bucky gratefully sucked down the tepid water from the straw.

“My name is Steve Rogers, and you’re in Queens,” the man replied softly. He sat down heavily on a chair behind, putting him at Bucky’s eye level. A curious choice for an alpha, to relinquish a position of strategic power. “At St. Anthony’s hospital.”

To his surprise, Bucky recognized the name. This hadn’t exactly been where he had wanted to end up, but it might as well as been the next best thing. Maybe he could still pull this off, he thought with a sudden surge of adrenaline. Maybe this time Brock wouldn’t find him after all.

Bucky pushed himself upright in the sloping hospital bed, pushing a hand through his long, untidy hair and wincing when the movement tugged at the IV tubing snaking its’ way under his skin. He surveyed the room, taking in the exhausted and slightly damp looking alpha and the quiet darkness of the night outside the window. They were pretty high up, he noted. Too high to jump. But maybe if he was smart enough; maybe if he played his cards right, he wouldn’t have to try to run.

 Bucky gave the alpha his most charming smile, ducking his head submissively and looking up through dark lashes.

“Are you the one that saved me?” he asked softly, letting his Slavic accent bleed into his words more profusely than was maybe strictly necessary. “Thank you, alpha.” His attempt at manipulation might have been heavy handed, but Bucky couldn’t help but feel pleased at the pole-axed expression on Steve’s face.

Steve, for his part, struggled to tamp down a surge of guilt at the query. He was no genius, but he was pretty sure that he wasn’t allowed to call his actions heroic on the heels of ramming his car into a helpless omega on the side of the road, accident or no accident.

“Don’t mention it,” he said weakly, taking the omega’s hands in one of his own. His bones were as light and hollow as a sparrow’s, delicate wrists easily enveloped by Steve’s warm grip. “What were you doing out there?” he asked. “By yourself?”

Bucky winced, willing his hands not to begin trembling in the alpha’s grip. It was soft at the moment, only holding onto Bucky’s cold fingers in reassurance. But he knew better than to think that Steve’s wouldn’t tighten his hold painfully at any moment if he wanted to. This alpha’s manner was calm and his scent clean, but Bucky could only hear the implicit disapproval in his words. He had been wandering around outside by himself, and that was behavior that warranted punishment.

Bucky remained wordless, willing his heart to stop rabbiting in his chest.

“Are you in danger?” Steve pressed in response to the omega’s continued silence.

Steve was still looking at him steadily, thumb rubbing a circle around Bucky’s pulse point as he waited for an answer. An explanation for his behavior. Bucky was loathe to give the truth, because no matter how sweet his stranger rescuer may have been, there was nothing he could do to protect him from his alpha. That was a lesson Bucky had learned the hard way, until it was ingrained deeply into the very core of his being.

“I can help you,” the alpha said, a direct contrast to the despairing thoughts rattling around in Bucky’s head.

Bucky fought the sudden, hysterical urge to laugh. “My alpha wouldn’t like that very much,” he murmured.

“Your alpha seems like an asshole,” Steve said, angrier than he intended. Bucky flinched at the harshness of his words, taken aback.

“You don’t even know him,” he said reflexively.

Steve scowled furiously, gesturing to the mass of mottled bruised that graced Bucky’s pale throat. “I know that he’s not your mate,” he said. “I know that anyone who would do that is a monster.”

The arid scent of pissed off alpha began to fill the room. Bucky ducked his head again, trying to fold himself into the smaller target on the bed. The pounding in his head was back with a vengeance, making him cringe in discomfort.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” he whined, mindless to anything but managing the potential rage of the alpha in front of him.

Almost as suddenly as it had come, Steve’s righteous indignation went out like a light at the sight of Bucky in such obvious distress. His breath was coming faster, and there were twin spots of color high on his cheeks.

“Hey,” Steve said softly. He leaned closer so that he could tilt Bucky’s face towards himself with a finger on his chin. “It’s okay. I shouldn’t have gotten upset, I’m very sorry. I want to help.”

The omega met his eyes with wide grey eyes, visibly fighting the urge to drop his gaze. “If you want to help me,” he said with some difficulty. “You’ll help me find Natasha.”

“Is she who you were trying to go see?” he asked. Bucky nodded, casting another anxious glance around the hospital room. “I have a cellphone around here somewhere; do you know her number? Is she family?”

Bucky frowned. “I just need to find Natasha,” he repeated. “Please.”

Just then, there was a loud commotion in the hallway outside their room. The sounds of raised voices and anger, usually uncommon and unwanted in the quiet of the omega ward, filtered into their tenuous bubble of calm. Bucky froze, his heart suddenly in his throat.

There was a brisk knock on the door. A nurse stuck her head inside, focusing immediately on Steve.

“Mr. Rogers,” she said. “Can I ask you to come outside please?” Her manner was pleasant, but her scent was tinged sour with nervousness.

Steve nodded, giving Bucky’s hand one last squeeze in reassurance. “It’s going to be okay,” he murmured, standing. “Just stay right here.”  Bucky nodded, acquiescing to the alpha’s order largely out of habit.

He followed the nurse out into the hall. Steve was worried about Bucky’s health, and dreaded to hear that the accident he had caused internal, lasting damage. He was entirely taken aback when they approached the nurse’s station and he immediately came face to face with a large, furious alpha instead.

“What the fuck did you do to my James?” the man scowled, abandoning whatever conversation the hospital staff had been trying to have with him in favor of glaring at Steve.

“What,” Steve asked, lost. The anger in the alpha’s posture intensified, and the air around them turned arid with the scent of rage.

A nurse hastily took a step back and cast a quelling look at both of them. “We were able to confirm the identity of the omega patient you brought in, Mr. Roger,” she said. “Mr. Rumlow called our emergency department looking for his mate and provided an exact description.”

“You’re not his mate,” Steve replied instantly. He thought again of collar of bruises which colored Bucky’s throat like a string of pearls and his distaste for this alpha doubled.  

Rumlow was an imposing man who didn’t hesitate before fixing Steve with a nasty look that promised pain. He was dressed in black from head to toe, showing off his whip cord musculature in a clear, if none too subtle, display of strength.

“And what the fuck,” he spit out. “Do you know about anything?”

Steve, however, refused to be intimidated by a wall of leather. It had been a long day and an even longer evening, and his patience is wearing dangerously thin.

“Bucky isn’t going anywhere if he doesn’t want to,” he snarled back, hackles rising.

“Who the hell is Bucky?”  Rumlow asked. His momentary confusion seemed only to make him more enraged, and he started shoving past Steve with an exasperated grunt. “Get out of my way, boy scout.”

“Back off,” Steve warned.

“Or what?” Rumlow sneered. He leaned in closer, his scent a hot and prickly sensation running uncomfortably down Steve’s spine. Hostile alpha. In his territory, near a helpless omega. For a moment, all he could see was red.

And then Steve was moving before he could even register his own intentions, his fist striking Rumlow in a hard blow across his cheekbone. The dull crunch of flesh on bone echoed through the dim corridor.

“Fuck!” the alpha shouted, staggered backwards. “Have you lost your fucking mind?”  He spit blood, and fixed Steve with the speculative look of a predator who had just found its’ next meal.

Steve took an unconscious step back, suddenly unnerved by the cold, malicious gleam in Rumlow’s eyes. What had he been thinking? Striking someone in the middle of a hospital ward, like he had left the reservation and gone fully feral. It was exactly the type of behavior that he had fought his whole life to suppress. 

Besides them, the nurses had stepped away to give them both a wide berth. Steve winced again, apologetic.

 “So now that that’s been cleared up, I think I’m gonna go and have a chat,” Rumlow drawled, “With my omega.”

He gave Steve a wink as he ducked past him, this time meeting no resistance. Steve could only clench and unclench his fists helplessly, wishing despite himself that he had hit the man harder when he had had the opportunity.  The hospital door slammed shut behind the alpha, followed immediately by the click of the lock being engaged.

Steve was debating breaking down the door himself, consequences be damned, when he felt a light pressure on his arm. He looked down to meet the eyes of a petite, red haired woman in a white coat.

“Those doors are sturdier than they look,” she said.

Steve flushed, embarrassed to have been so transparent. He bit his lip, unable to tear himself away from watching the door like his life depended on it.

“Rumlow shouldn’t be in there,” he muttered.

“I know,” the doctor agreed, finally startling Steve into giving her his full attention. “Bucky is in a complicated situation,” she said delicately. “But you don’t have to worry – no one is going to hurt him while we’re still in the hospital.”

The implication of what will happen once Bucky leaves lingered in the air between, malodorous. Steve slowly turned to the woman. Her face was expressionless under a shock of red hair that had been neatly pinned back. Her ID badge reads N. Romanoff, MD. Steve surreptitiously inhales, but can only smell the deliberately inoffensive aroma of scent suppressors. But still – this woman had known James’ name, which must count for something.

“I think maybe we should talk,” she said, inclining her head down the hall.

When Steve continued to hesitate, her expressions grew sharp. “You owe it to him,” she said. “You’re the reason he’s in here in the first place, aren’t you?”

“It wasn’t like that,” he protested, softly. Nevertheless, he can’t help the stab of guilt that shoots through him. The events that led them here may have been due to an accident, but he had since chosen to take responsibility. With gut-wrenching clarity, he recalled Bucky’s guarded, mistrusting acquiescence of his offer of protection.

The woman looked at him, unblinking. Steve had the sudden, uneasy sense that she knew exactly what he had been thinking.  

“Are you Natasha?” he asked, finally slotting the pieces together.

“I am,” she replied.

“Okay,” he conceded with a sigh. “Lead the way.”

 

They made their way down to the basement level cafeteria. At this time of night, the place was a ghost town, complete devoid of the bustle and chatter that Steve had grown accustomed to hearing whenever he had come down here to eat with the other volunteers. A tired looking couple huddle on a table in a corner, picking at plastic containers of fruit. A handful of nurses are clustered around the muted television, totally engrossed.

Dr. Romanoff wordlessly padded over to the industrial sized coffee machine, swiping her access badge in exchange for a giant cup of steaming caffeine. Steve followed suit, his body on autopilot and his mind four floors above them.

“How do you know Bucky?” he asked. They had chosen a table tucked against the wall, isolated from prying ears.

She paused for a long moment. “James has become something of a regular of mine,” she said finally. “Over the last several months, I’ve seen him in our ER more times than I would like to count.”

Steve grimaced, trying and failing to come up with a tactful way to ask about the circumstances surrounding Bucky’s alarmingly frequent hospital visits. The resident eyed him coolly for a moment while he floundered.

“It was just sprains and bruises, at first,” she said finally, apparently deciding to put Steve out of his misery. “Just run of the mill stuff, nothing too concerning. But then it was a broken arm. Time after that, a couple of cracked ribs. Dislocated shoulder.”

Steve struggled to the horror he was feeling off his face as the doctor rattled off injuries like a grocery list. “How come nobody did anything?” he asked angrily. “How could you just let him leave with that asshole when you knew what he was doing?”

“You of all people should know it’s not as simple as that,” Natasha said warningly. “Mate or not, removing an omega from their alpha’s care is a Sisyphean process. No matter what I did, Bucky always seemed to end up right back where he started.” A hint of frustration crept into her voice.

“He’s not from around here is he?” Steve asked, thinking of Bucky’s faint, lilting accent.

“No,” she said. Her disgust for Bucky’s alpha was transparent as day. “He’s not. He doesn’t have much of a support system here, which is partially why Brock’s had such an easy time keeping him on a tight leash.”

“I want to help,” Steve said immediately, desperate. “There has to be something we can do to keep them from leaving.”

“Right now, you’re the alpha of record on Bucky’s paperwork,” Natasha said, a triumphant look flickering across her face so quickly Steve wasn’t even sure it had existed. “So if you were to sign him out before someone updates his chart, nobody would be the wiser.”

“What about Rumlow?” Steve asked. Not that he cared. If he had to knock that man flat on his ass in the middle of the cafeteria to keep him from leaving with Bucky, he would. In a heartbeat, and with zero remorse.

Before Natasha could answer, however, the pager at her waist gave an insistent buzz. Not half a second later, the overheard intercom crackled to life and a mechanical voice blared through the empty cafeteria.

“Code Lilac,” the announcement droned. “All available personnel please respond. Code Lilac.”

Steve was alarmed to see all the blood drain from Natasha’s face. “What does that mean, code lilac?” he asked urgently.

“It means there’s a missing omega,” she responded grimly. She pushed aside her half-finished cup of coffee and got to her feet. “And I have a feeling I know exactly who.”

“Fuck,” he swore, getting to his feet as well and following Natasha as she hurried to the elevators. “I thought you said nothing could happen to him while he was in the hospital!”

She scowled as she pushed the button repeatedly until the elevator arrived with a soft ding. “Listen, Steve, it’s probably better if you wait in the lobby,” she said. She stepped into the waiting elevator and shook her head when Steve made to follow. “I promise I’ll come find you afterwards.”

Steve wanted to protest, but before he could get a word out the doors were smoothly sliding shut. He was there left standing empty handed, waiting for the next elevator while his heart pounded out a staccato drumbeat of anxiety and apprehension. He had known that Rumlow had been nothing but trouble the second they had laid eyes on each other. He should have known better than to leave Bucky alone with him, no matter what any doctor said, Steve berated himself.

Fuck listening to everyone else, he decided. He was going to find Bucky even if he had to comb through the entire hospital by himself. Steve pushed the elevator buttons angrily, willing either one of the two sets of metal doors to open. With each passing second, he was sure that Rumlow was taking Bucky farther and farther away from here and quite frankly merely the thought was making his blood pressure skyrocket.

Accordingly, his shock when the elevator slid open to reveal a disheveled and harried looking Bucky was borderline comical. Steve’s mouth hung open, and he gaped at the messy haired omega staring at him expectantly.

“You getting on or what?” Bucky asked, raising an eyebrow. He was still dressed only in his paper hospital gown, and an alligator clip from the IV dangled limped from the back of his hand.

“Bucky?” Steve said, dumbstruck. “What the hell - ”

“We don’t have time!” Bucky interjected, looking harried. He leaned forward and grabbed Steve’s shirt, tugging him into the elevator right as the doors began to close. Inside the contained space of the elevator, Steve could smell the creeping scent of omega fear. Fear, anxiety, as well as the coppery smell of blood. The relief that had crashed through him at the sight of the omega alive and nearby was immediately tempered with concern.

“Are you okay? What happened?” he asked. Bucky was still holding onto him, and Steve ran a hesitant hand comfortingly down his back. The omega shivered in response.

 “Did you mean what you said,” Bucky asked urgently. His knuckles were white where he was clutching Steve’s lapel tightly. “Did you mean it when you said you would help me?” 

“Yes, I meant it – I do mean it,” Steve promised without a moment of hesitation. “Tell me what you need.”

Bucky was struck dumb for a moment, almost unable to comprehend how – or why – this strange alpha would put his life on the life to help someone like him. He scanned Steve’s face wordlessly, taking in his earnest blue eyes and determined expression.

When he leaned forward to press a sudden, grateful kiss against Steve’s lips it wasn’t sure who was more surprised, him or the alpha. Bucky pulled away a moment later, his heart skipping a beat.

“Then take me away from here,” he said.